City Council sets aside $150K for rail consultant

Independent Consultant meets HART Board

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The City Council has set aside $150,000 for their own independent consultant. But according to the council chair, the new hire is less concerned with future obstacles and more about past problems.

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation got a first glimpse on Thursday of a scale model of the driverless trains that will be running along Honolulu's rail line when the project is complete.

The first full size train is expected to be delivered to Hawaii by Spring 2016.

Former Congresswoman Coleen Hanabusa was sworn in on Thursday as the newest board member of HART, as selected last month by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

The Mayor's new rail consultant met HART's board for the first time Thursday.

"The project has no shortage of challenges. Many of those challenges have been overcome -- however, there will be many more requiring resolution in the future," explained Independent rail consultant Michael Burns. "I hope to provide constructive input toward meeting those challenges."

City officials were quick to address the perception that the appointment reflects concerns about current leadership.

"It's not a comment on the organization, their competence and their ability to do their job, it's simply a desire by the mayor that we have somebody who looks over the mayor's shoulder -- looks at our processes and our policies, our governance," said Department of Transportation Services Director Michael Formby.

But one vocal community advocate raised other questions about the independent consultant's hire -- in light of word the city council would hire its own.

"Rail is going to become and probably already has become a new political football that is going to figure very prominently in the next mayoral election," said community advocate Dr. Jim Anthony.

Council Chair Ernie Martin is believed to be considering a challenge against Mayor Kirk Caldwell in 2016.

His office confirms a budget has been approved to hire a rail consultant -- whose job it will be to determine how the project fell short nearly 1 billion dollars.

The mayor's appointee -- who has 40 years experience in the rail industry -- says he's well-versed in dealing with highly politicized environments and will focus on the work itself.

"I'm not carrying anybody's water,' Burns said. " I am coming in as an independent -- sort of a peer review type of a role, to see if there are ways that the project can look at things differently and in the end, make the project better."

Officials also voted today on a new chair -- Don Horner will now head HART's board of directors.

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